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Trump's secret trial puts journalists in the spotlight.

Trump's secret trial puts journalists in the spotlight.


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CNN New York —

Donald Trumphush's financial trial takes journalists into uncomfortable territory and lays bare the complicated relationships journalists often have with their sources.

Michael Cohen, who continued to testify Thursday, invoked the names of several high-profile media figures from the stand, putting their relationships with Trump's former fixer under the spotlight.

Cohen named Maggie Haberman of the New York Times and Katy Tura of MSNBC as journalists with whom he had established relationships. He alleged without evidence that ABC News John Santucci attempted to pay for the rights to the Stormy Daniels story. And he spoke of recording dozens of phone calls with media figures, including former CNN boss Jeff Zucker.

To be clear, a journalist having working relationships with sources is not unethical, it is often the mark of a strong journalist and does not translate into accepting orders or to publish unverified information. Reputable media outlets like ABC News don't pay for interviews, but trying to get an interview with a high-profile subject is anything but rare. And talking on the phone with a source while the person on the other end is secretly recording says a lot more about that individual than the reporter.

For now, much of what Cohen described in court appears to be routine, mundane behavior that happens every day in journalism. But the general public doesn't work in a newsroom, and regular interactions with sources can be framed in a way that removes key context and presents a routine reporting process as harmful.

This context is crucial. For example, Haberman is undoubtedly one of the most influential journalists on Trump. For years, his signature dogged the Queens-born developer turned politician, exposing corruption, revealing embarrassing secrets and shining a light on his authoritarian impulses. In return, Trump got angry with her incessantly. The idea that Haberman is a Trump-appointed stenographer is absurd.

But for Haberman or any journalist to get information from Trump world, one must cultivate prickly relationships with sources, many of whom are slimy personalities. It is neither unusual nor unethical for journalists to be cordial to the sources from which they obtain information. This does not mean that they print everything these sources send them or that they serve as spokespersons. This simply means that they have established a relationship conducive to the flow and exchange of information. And when the journalist considers that this information is worthy of interest, he can then publish it for the whole world to see.

It's also worth noting that many of the top journalists covering the world of Trump have complex histories with key figures in the case. A witness like Cohen or a lawyer like Todd Blanche might be motivated to portray various journalists in an unflattering light.

In many ways, Trump's secret trial has become a sort of Rorschach test. People see what they want to see, ignoring the evidence before their eyes that goes against their chosen narrative. And for the faction of the public that feels some members of the press are too cozy in Trump's world, seeing Cohen discuss his dealings with the media has only reinforced their view.

The fact that journalists are playing a leading role in the trial is also due to the Trump years. The former president, seeking to use the media as a foil, made the journalists who covered him the characters in his relentless show. Through vile attacks, he has moved journalists from behind the scenes to the front lines. And now, in the midst of his criminal trial, it's fitting that members of the press once again find themselves in the awkward position of being part of the very story they cover.




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